This Week in Music History: May 21 to 27

May 21, 2012

By David Ball

On May 22, 1972, The Guess Who recorded their first live effort, Live at the Paramount, in Seattle, Washington; a followup concert LP wouldn’t be recorded until 1984’s reunion tour. The exciting and fascinating album showcases the Winnipeg rockers at their best since the 1970 departure of the band’s co-founder and guitarist, Randy Bachman.

The Seattle disc was greeted with excellent reviews following its release in August 1972, with pianist and lead singer Burton Cummings in stellar form supported by the potent duel guitar–attack from Kurt Winter and recent addition Donnie McDougall. Highlights include a killer nearly 17–minute version of “American Woman” and the LP’s Cummings-Winter hit single, “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon,” the latter of which is a rollicking road trip postcard to Western Canada.

There really is no justice…

Pioneering Canadian hip-hoppers Dream Warriors, comprised of King Lou and Capital Q, made their live U.S. debut at SOB’s in New York City on May 23, 1991. The Toronto duo were in the Big Apple attempting to drum up support for their sensational debut, And Now the Legacy Begins, which saw its official U.S. release a month earlier. Note: The LP garnered rave reviews (making many Best Of 1991 album lists, including Melody MakerQ MagazineNME and Eye Weekly), reached No. 18 in the U.K., No. 34 in Canada (where it went gold) and went on to sell 800,000 copies worldwide.

The aforementioned album also won the 1992 JUNO Award for Rap Recording of the Year and spawned four well-known singles, including Dream Warriors’ iconic signature song, “My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style.” However, neither the album or its singles – or any of the group’s other releases – ever made a splash in the U.S. Yes, there really is no justice for this type of madness, especially since the era’s lesser-light rappers Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer – even Bubba Sparxxx – became household names in America. Are you freaking kidding me?!

Find me someone under the age of 40 who claims to have never heard this band’s big song and I’ll call them a liar.

Toronto hip-hop indie-pop outfit and one-hit wonder Len, led by brother and sister Marc and Sharon Costanzo, released You Can’t Stop the Bum Rush, their major-label debut (and their third album overall) on May 25, 1999. Catapulting the band to stardom – for about a calendar year – was the album’s leadoff single, “Steal My Sunshine,” written by Marc Costanzo and respected disco-oriented musician and producer Gregg Diamond. The song is a feel-good piece of summery bubblegum pop and it was no surprise that it reached the top of Canada’s RPM singles chart and No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. Its remarkable success (it was also a big hit in the United Kingdom and Australia, and cracked the top 10 on four other Billboard singles charts) helped boost sales of You Can’t Stop the Bum Rush to over a million units in the United States alone.

“Steal My Sunshine” aside, several of the LP’s other tracks should have been hits and reviews from critics were generally favourable. All Music Guide’s John Bush, for instance, called You Can’t Stop the Bum Rush “a low-rent version of the Beastie Boys’ 1998 album Hello Nasty – Biz Markie makes a few appearances as he did with the Beasties, and master turntablist Mr. Dibbs takes the role of Mix Master Mike with major contributions to one (very short) track. Still, the album’s few derivative qualities never really get in the way of an enjoyable listen.” Even if Bush’s critique is a somewhat backhanded one, being compared to the Beasties is still high praise.

Back to Len’s claim to fame…

It’s a good thing that “Steal My Sunshine” was included on the soundtrack for the pretty good film Go, which starred Canadian actor-director Sarah Polley and was released March 30, 1999. Len’s single began getting heavy airplay, which forced their label to push up the LP’s original release date from June to May.

Some of you may be wondering why the Canadian one-hit wonders are deserving of a four-paragraph dissertation, albeit a rather lowbrow one. Well, that big song of theirs was everywhere in the summer of ’99. Radio stations of all formats played the tune seemingly every couple of minutes. You’d also hear it blaring in bars, cars, shopping malls, grocery stores and in elevators, too. Heck, I remember hitting about 20 rides at Canada’s Wonderland back in ’99 and hearing that cursedly catchy guilty pleasure about 20 times. And MuchMusic, in its infinite wisdom, put the video in heavy Gaga-like rotation for six months. More importantly, the seasonal popularity of the song placed Len in the “Timeless Summer Tune” ranks joining other Canadian acts such as Lighthouse (“Sunny Days”), Terry Jacks (“Seasons in the Sun”), The Tragically Hip (“Bobcaygeon”), Bryan Adams (“Summer of ’69”) and Gordon Lightfoot (“Sundown”).

“Steal My Sunshine” went on to win three MuchMusic Video Awards and the group was nominated for three JUNO Awards in 2000: Best New Group, Best Album and Best Single for “Steal My Sunshine.” Rumour has it that the Costanzos and/or some incarnation of Len are still together looking for that second hit – but they’ve already achieved immortality.

Bed-In No. 2… Part 1

The second “Bed-In” for John Lennon and Yoko Ono took place on May 26, 1969, at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. Near the end of their seven-day stay in La Belle Province, on June 1 to be exact, the Beatle and his wife recorded the revolutionary “Give Peace a Chance.” Their two Bed-Ins for Peace (the first was held during their March 1969 honeymoon in Amsterdam) were a non-violent way to protest the Vietnam War and to promote world peace.

John and Yoko with journalists in Room 1742 of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.

Neither Montreal nor Amsterdam were cosy or intimate getaways… unless the celebrity newlyweds’ ideas of “cosy and intimate” involved sharing hotel rooms with a mishmash of casual friends and acquaintances, including funnyman Tommy Smothers, influential disc jockey Murray the K, psychologist and author Timothy Leary, satirist and activist Dick Gregory, cartoonist Al Capp (who famously called the couple “famous freaks”) and many more – including the international press. The entire event was recorded by the CBC and the mother corporation also conducted interviews during the weeklong affair. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the story in next week’s TWIMH.

Next week: John and Yoko’s second “Bed-In” (Part 2) and Stan Rogers

“Steal My Sunshine” by Len